Firefly is a copyright of 20th Century Fox Television, Mutant Enemy, and the Fox Television Network. Serenity is a copyright of Mutant Enemy, Universal Studios, and Barry Mendel Productions. Joss Whedon came up with it all, and I'm only borrowing his characters and places for a short time. This piece is not intended for any profit on the part of the writer, nor is it meant to detract from the commercial viability of the aforementioned or any other copyright. Any similarity to any events or persons, either real or fictional, is unintended.
Author's Note: This one is from a ficathon I was in a while back (and thanks to BrynnMcK for her work organizing it). Don't know why I waited so long to post it, but since I'm on the fanfic-writing wagon for the time-being, I figured I'd clear this out of my archives. This was the first time I dabbled with present tense, and was written for the prompt, "Jayne Cobb and River Tam, post-Serenity, no crazy!River."
in With Thieves
As he's gone through life, Jayne Cobb hasn't been what most people would consider an introspective man. He's spent much of his time preoccupied with satisfying his own needs and desires, rarely noticing that there is, in fact, a universe of activity going on around him. However, on those rare occasions when he's stopped long enough to take stock of his fellow man, to gaze upon the meek and mighty, the tough and timid, Jayne Cobb has invariably been convinced that he's quite probably the most astounding bad-ass this side of Earth That Was. And this certainty that he's one of humanity's preeminent bad-asses, more than anything else, is what's frustrating him most at this instant.
He looks across at River Tam, his current partner in crime, marveling at the happily amused look on her face, dumbfounded as to why she seems so unconcerned despite the fact that he, indisputably a world-class bad-ass, is making every effort to curl himself into as small a ball as possible, hoping the pallet of silk he's using as cover continues to hold up against what seems like a never-ending onslaught of automatic weapons wire. The only plausible explanation he can think of to explain River's smiling enthusiasm is that she's clearly unaware of the danger they're in, despite the deafening hum of bullets ricocheting all around them.
"I don't think they're too happy with us right now," River shouts over to him from behind her own increasingly shredded stack of textiles.
"You think?" Jayne answers sarcastically.
River dashes a half-step away from Jayne, drawing the guards' fire as they guess she's planning an ill-advised dash for the door; then, quick as a cat, she shifts her weight and doubles back toward Jayne, diving for cover next to him before the guards can adjust to her misdirection and get off a good shot. "You don't have any grenades right now, do you?" River asks, chuckling slightly.
"No, I don't," Jayne gripes. He's never had a running joke in his life, a fact he attributes to not keeping people around long enough to develop that kind of familiarity and comfort. And all things considered, he doesn't think he's entirely pleased with the fact that the first such joke in his life centers on an unfortunate lack of grenades in situations that might merit explosives. "I didn't think we'd need them breaking into a fabric storage warehouse."
River smiles at that, and then looks around, taking stock of their precarious position. As she re-assesses the situation, hopefully coming up with a plan that might actually save both their hides, Jayne takes a good look at her, trying to figure out whether she's actually as crazy as he always thought. He knows it's a good sign that Mal lets her fly Serenity most of the time, and it's an even better sign that they have yet to die in some horrific crash resulting from her getting distracted by the menagerie of voices in her head. But watching her look around the warehouse, no more concerned than she might be watching birds in a park on a lazy Sunday morning, he starts to wonder if River is just as nuts as she's ever been, and whether it's the rest of them who've gotten crazier rather than her getting saner.
"I have a plan," she finally announces, never looking at him, keeping her eyes disturbingly unfocused.
"You're not gonna kill them with your mind, are you?" Jayne asks.
"Do you think I should?"
Jayne looks at her, completely dumbfounded, searching for the appropriate response, when she smiles broadly and punches him lightly in the shoulder, the kind of playful tap that's usually reserved for Simon or, more recently, Mal.
"I'm just kidding," she assures him. "Don't worry, this'll be no problem."
"Hey, Jayne," River said, a broad, pleasant smile spread across her face.
"Hey," Jayne grunted. It was clear she'd been waiting outside his quarters for him to wake up, and he wasn't quite sure how to feel about that. There was definitely something to be said for an attractive teenage girl waiting outside his door. But then again, he wasn't about to forget the fact that she'd also slashed his chest with a carving knife one night. It was hard to decide whether she was a cloud with a shining silver lining or a rose with one hell of a serrated, surgical steel thorn.
"Guess what today is," River said, falling in behind him, completely silent in the wake of his heavy footsteps.
"I give up," Jayne replied immediately, continuing toward the gym, not even looking back to bother playing along with her game. "What is it today?"
"It's my birthday." Jayne wasn't sure he knew how she'd
stopped – it wasn't like she made any noise to give herself away
– but when he turned he saw River had pulled up dead in her tracks.
She was staring at him with a disappointed pout, an expression Jayne
was unable to place as either playful or genuinely hurt. For all he
knew, it only meant she had gas.
"Well… happy birthday," Jayne offered. "Maybe we'll get Kaylee to bake you a cake or somesuch."
"Do you know how old I am now?" River asked.
"Not offhand, no," Jayne admitted. "Why? I'm sure we have enough candles, if that's what you're worried about."
"I'm eighteen," she told him.
"Is that right?" Jayne asked.
"Do you know what that means?"
"Umm… yeah, I do," Jayne said with a satisfied smile. He looked around, listening closely, making sure Simon wasn't around. He'd never expected River to be so forward, but who was he to argue? After all, she was eighteen now, and whatever she had in mind was perfectly legal.
"Eww…" River said, suddenly taking a half-step back. "I didn't mean that. Is that all you think about?"
"Pretty much," Jayne admitted, though he knew it was probably unnecessary. After all, the girl was a psychic. After discovering that little tidbit, he'd spent several weeks being very mindful of what he thought around her, careful not to let her get a good idea of his most dearly held kinks. But then one day she caught him gazing at her hair, wet from a shower, and Jayne was halfway into mentally undressing her when he caught himself. Her reproachful stare wasn't half as intimidating as he'd expected, so he'd gone right back to work on her, trying to decide whether she was wearing a bra and, if so, what color it was. After that, he hadn't really cared what she did or didn't pick up in his thoughts. He was who he was, and if she didn't like it, she could stay safely out of stabbing distance.
"I was thinking about a job," River told him.
"A job?" The way she spoke the word – the inflection in her voice and the sudden intensity in her eyes – reminded him strangely of Mal, and so Jayne was reasonably certain River was referring to honest to goodness thievin', and not some kind of crazy job arranging flowers or whatever else it was normal teenage girls might like to do. "Does your brother know about this?"
"He doesn't have to," River said. "I'm eighteen." Something about the set of her shoulders and the incredulous expression on her face let Jayne know that she was mentally adding the word, "Duh," to her sentence.
"So you're eighteen," Jayne said. "Ready to go out and get your first job."
"Yup," River told him. "Next stop is on Athens. I was wondering if you'd be willing to give me a hand with something."
"Why me?" Jayne asked suspiciously.
"Two reasons," River answered. "First, you're the only one on the ship who isn't going to try to talk me out of it. Second, you have a price on your head; you need the money."
"Fine," Jayne said, deciding that both of those reasons were valid. "So… what did you have in mind?"
"Nothing that'll require grenades," River assured him.
Jayne realizes that River just yelled something else, but the gunfire has somehow grown even louder, and he can't make out much more than a few River-sounding pops and buzzes. He looks over at her, astounded to see her pointing at a narrow beam above them. Jayne has no doubt that this beam was likely labeled as a catwalk in the building schematics, but that was just wishful thinking on the part of some overworked architect. The catwalk leads to a skylight, and Jayne already knows his luck is bad enough that the window is probably the only way out.
"No way," he shouts. "I can't get up there."
She shrugs and crouches down, a mischievous grin on her face.
"I mean it!" he screams, wondering just what in hell he's gonna do if she ignores him. "That's ten feet up!"
She looks up, as if she's mentally measuring the distance herself, nods, and jumps up, a thin nylon cord trailing behind her, leading back down to the floor. A flick of the wrist sends a weighted end of the cord spinning around a girder, securely attaching the line and giving Jayne a way up.
River practically dances along the catwalk as she draws a submachine gun and fires down at the guards. Bullets dance across the floor as the guards, surprised to find themselves suddenly on the defensive, dive for cover, doubtlessly counting themselves lucky for evading shots that only missed them by inches, never pondering the superhuman skill it takes to get so many bullets so close without ever actually hitting any of them.
Jayne grunts and groans as he struggles up the short line, making no secret of his labored attempts at escape. River is actually disappointed that she has to work so hard to keep him from getting shot. In fact, she's half-tempted to let him take a flesh wound as a lesson to spend more time on the stairmaster working on his endurance, but she knows her brother would be the one to patch up Jayne's latest war wound, and that would require no small amount of evasive storytelling. There aren't many things River can't do, but as frustrating as it is for her, telling Simon a convincing lie is right near the top of that list.
Jayne is just pulling himself up onto the catwalk when River reaches the end of her clip. Out of bullets, she simply hurls her weapon in the direction of one of the guards, catching him square in the center of the forehead as he steps out from behind cover, intent on earning a hefty monthly bonus.
"Hey, that was one of my favorite guns," Jayne complains as he runs toward her, making certain not to look down or spend any measurable amount of time dwelling on the fact that he's admittedly not the nimblest man in the galaxy.
"You'll be able to afford a new one," she points out as they dash along the catwalk.
"But that one has sentimental value," he gripes. "That belonged to Cindy Marlowe's husband."
"Who was he?"
"Never met him," Jayne admits. "But Cindy was the best piece of—"
"Don't finish that sentence," River warns as they reach the skylight. She glances at him, flashing a playful wink, and gestures for him to take the honors of providing an exit. He smashes the glass with the butt of his rifle, and they're up and out onto the roof in seconds.
Jayne sighs happily when he sets his eyes on the shuttle, amazed that it's still there. With everything that's gone wrong on this job, he half-expects to find a platoon of Alliance troops milling about on the roof, killing time on their lunch hour and wondering why someone's trying to steal a flashy, low-atmosphere shuttle on a building in such an affluent section of town.
"See – no problem," River says happily, running up to the ship and entering the security code.
The seconds creep by for Jayne as he stands there, his head swiveling back and forth as he looks from River, to the smashed window, and back to River again. She assured him last night that she'd already come out here and figured out the security code, that they could use this shuttle in the event everything that could go wrong, did. He knows that the stress of the moment is screwing with his sense of time, but he's sure that unless the access code contains at least twenty-five digits, something must be going wrong.
A guard appears at the shattered window, but Jayne puts him down with a well-aimed shot to the gut. Seems a mean thing to do – Jayne knows from experience that the man is in a world of hurt right now – but he'll probably live. It seems likely the guard will be thankful for that once he's able to eat solid food again.
"Got it," River grins.
"Took long enough," Jayne gripes as he leaps in after her.
"My finger slipped," she apologizes, shaking her head. She seems infinitely more stunned by her lack of perfection than Jayne is.
"Just get us out of here," Jayne yells as River bounds forward toward the cockpit. "And make it fast. The gorram police are gonna be here any minute!"
River pored over the data on seraphiber, deciding it was perfect for what she had in mind. A dress made from seraphiber was, perhaps, humanity's inimitable sign of wealth and influence, more convincing than a letter of credit from the First Bank of Osiris, more influential than a letter of introduction signed by a Member of Parliament.
On a rudimentary level, seraphiber was just a simple, organic fiber, translucent and not particularly strong. If not for one notable attribute, seraphiber would have been ignored as a potential textile, due primarily to the fact that few people found much value in flimsy, transparent clothes. But when exposed to ultraviolet light for a short period of time, seraphiber became phosphorescent, radiating a soft golden light for several hours, illuminating the wearer of a seraphiber garment in an angelic aura. Seraphiber was traditionally woven with silk, the prism-like structure of which served to enhance seraphiber's radiance and hold the delicate seraphiber threads together.
Economically, the reason seraphiber was considered almost priceless was that it was produced only in a small region of one planet. Athens was well-known as a temperamental world, its atmosphere and indigenous ecosystem engaged in a constant, hostile battle of wills against humanity's terraforming efforts. Native microorganisms remained despite decades of attempts to wipe them out, attacking foreign, introduced species in new and interesting ways. One of the results of Athens's bitter evolutionary war was the Athenian mangrove, a tree that could not survive anywhere but the swamps and bogs of the treacherous Theban Bayou. No Athenian mangrove transplanted out of the Bayou had ever survived, and no attempt to recreate the Bayou using some of the Athenian microorganisms in similar swamps on other planets had ever succeeded.
The large, coconut-sized seeds of the Athenian mangrove contained the thin fiber that, when combed out and spun into thread, became seraphiber.
River looked up information on seraphiber production, poring over each step, calling up information on the small, specialized industry, trying to determine the locations of warehouses that might be vulnerable to theft. She figured that she would need to steal four skeins – two for her and two for whoever she talked into joining her – in order to meet her needs.
It didn't take long to find the perfect target, and that left her with the far more difficult task of deciding who to bring in on her plan. River Tam was a firm believer that the only way for three people to keep a secret was if two of them were dead, so that left her with the conclusion that she couldn't risk bringing more than one person in on the job. Two people left too much open to chance, but one person… one person, she could keep an eye on.
She immediately crossed Simon off her mental list for several obvious reasons. First and foremost, he'd never agree to help her. Second, in the unlikely event that he suffered a head injury serious enough to make him think that joining River on a heist was a good idea, he'd still be worthless if people started shooting at them.
Kaylee was also out, because she'd only end up telling Simon, and she wasn't much better with a gun than Simon was.
She spent several minutes considering the possibility of asking Inara, but the Companion was a little unpredictable. Having her pose as a legitimate buyer could get River through the door; but if anything went wrong, River honestly had no idea how useful Inara would be helping her fight her way out. She wanted to have a better idea what to expect, and that led her to the ship's muscle.
The obvious choice was Mal; the two of them had gotten closer since their misadventures on Miranda, and she felt that she could trust him. Unfortunately, though, she was also certain that Mal would get all heroic and try to protect her if things went wrong. The last thing River wanted was Mal getting hurt because he worried more about her than he did himself. So she rejected him.
Realizing her list was growing uncomfortably short, River tried to think of any reason to justify asking Zoe. But despite all of the valid reasons she thought up, she had trouble getting past the fact that she didn't think she could trust Zoe not to be reckless. They'd done several jobs since Wash died, and in every case Zoe played a little too fast and loose with her life. Even more than River didn't want to see Mal get hurt for being too careful with her, she didn't want to see herself get hurt because Zoe wasn't being careful enough.
With a heavy, reluctant sigh, River realized who she'd have to ask. Jayne was, sadly enough, perfect for the job. She could count on him to watch her back in a fight, and she knew he wouldn't be either overprotective or reckless. She also knew he could keep a secret if he had to, and the fact was that he was desperate enough to take on just about any lucrative job.
"Well, as long as he does what he's told," River said, thinking aloud. "What's the worst that could possibly happen?"
"Going faster would be a good idea right about now," Jayne gripes on River's right, just as she maneuvers the shuttle out of open air and into the canyon of skyscrapers in downtown Appolonia. "Not lower, faster!" he yelps.
"The police are right behind us," River reminds him. "We can't outrun them in this thing, and it isn't designed to break orbit. We don't have much choice."
"This is crazy!" Jayne counters. His knuckles go white as he tightens his grip on the sides of the chair. "We're low enough for me to see the signs on the storefronts."
"You're exaggerating," River chides patiently. Her eyes go wide for a fraction of second, and then she puts her entire body into a turn to their left, scraping the ship against the side of a building as she buzzes the fashion district on Third Avenue. "Besides, we're going much too fast for you to read anything."
"No we're not. That's the Ghost Repeater!" Jayne yells, pointing to a brick-face blur that River correctly assumes is some pretentious nightclub.
"Uh-oh," she mutters.
"Oh-oh?" Jayne asks nervously. "What the hell you mean by uh-oh?"
"Two more police units are coming right at us." She thrusts her chin out, directing Jayne to tear his increasingly panicked gaze from the local scenery and to look ahead of them.
"Tzao gao," Jayne curses. "We're humped."
"I have one more trick," River assures him. She pulls up hard, firmly depositing Jayne's entire brain in the back half of his skull, and then rolls the shuttle over as she veers right, skimming across several rooftops before diving into an alley that's hardly wide enough to accommodate the shuttle's wingspan. One police cruiser attempts the same maneuver, losing one of its short, stubby wings in the process.
"I hope no one got killed," Jayne mutters, trying to figure the odds based on the amount of black smoke billowing up behind them. "They don't take well to cop killers here."
"Do they anywhere?"
"Umm… not so much, no," Jayne admits. He's just about to add an anecdote to drive the point home, but his attention is instantly diverted by a buzzing sound coming from River's hip. "What's that?" he asks suspiciously.
"Simon's calling," River says. "I have my ear-bud in my pocket; can you stick it in my ear?"
"Not a time for gabbin' on the phone."
"If I don't answer, he's likely to trace the signal so he can come find me and make sure I'm okay."
"Doesn't he trust you?" Jayne asks, mustering up the courage to pry his left hand from the side of the seat and start fishing around in her pocket.
"Not there," River snaps. "I need the earbud. It's in my shirt pocket."
"Your… shirt pocket," Jayne stammers, looking at the pocket right over her breast.
"Please resist the urge to spend too much time searching," River groans as Jayne half-looks, half-cops-a-feel. "We only have a few more seconds."
"Got it," Jayne says, withdrawing his hand with a triumphant flair and sticking the bud in her ear.
"Hey, Simon," River says cheerily, zipping the shuttle to the right, managing a turn over the Admiral Edwards Thruway. River gasps – and Jayne practically screams in terror – as they see several taxi shuttles hovering fifty meters over the thruway, directly in their path.
"Are you okay?" Simon asks as River avoids vaporizing them in a mid-air collision, inverting the shuttle as she flies below the taxis, giving them a close-up view of a grammar school class lined up neatly outside a museum.
"Fine," River assures her brother, trying not to laugh at the wide-eyed look of terror on Jayne's face. "I found a wonderful sale."
"What are you doing?" Simon asks.
"I'm shopping," River tells him, ignoring Jayne as he rolls his eyes.
"What for?" Simon presses. River knows he's suspicious, but she does her best to convince herself that his fears are probably limited to the possibility that she's started a bar fight or gotten lost in the spaceport. She thinks it highly unlikely that he's calling to make sure she hasn't cahooted with Jayne to steal four skeins of near-priceless thread right before leading the Apollonian authorities on a high-speed, low-altitude chase.
"I'm shopping for clothes," River explains. "I need something a little warmer. It gets cold on Serenity sometimes."
"Well you should have told me," Simon responds.
River's eyes go wide when she realizes Jayne has finally noticed that their shuttle has a small-caliber gun turret, no doubt used to fend off thieves when the owner is transporting seraphiber from the warehouse to the spaceport. She smacks Jayne's hand away, barely getting her hands back on the controls in time to manage another ill-advised maneuver back onto Third Avenue.
"Where are you?" Simon asks.
"Fashion district," River says truthfully.
"Well be careful," Simon tells her. "Kaylee just heard over the comm channels that the police are chasing a shuttle around downtown or something. Something about some thieves."
"Anyone we know?" River asks, pulling up again, taking a quick look at the dozen or so police cruisers slowly closing the net around them, trying to figure a way out of the mess.
"Don't know," Simon admits. "Maybe we'll see them on the news."
"Not if they're any good," River says with a chuckle, again smacking Jayne's hand away from the turret controls. "If I'm not back in a bit, I'll give a call."
"Okay," Simon responds. Then he cuts off the line, allowing River to focus on the problem at hand.
"You're gonna use your one phone call to call your brother?" Jayne asks sarcastically. "That's sweet."
"Not now, Jayne," River grumbles.
"There any chance we getting out of this?" he asks.
"Of course," River assures him, a dangerous glimmer in her eye. "No problem. But before I do this, I need you to be honest with me."
"You didn't eat a really big breakfast, did you?" she asks as she powers up the engines.
The blastdoors opened, revealing nothing; beyond them was an impenetrable darkness, a void into which Jayne knew in his gut he didn't want to see.
Then the stench hit him. Blood, and shit, and piss, and sweat, and fear. It was the smell of death, a slaughterhouse on the outskirts on the fifth circle of hell, but there was no noise from inside. Whatever demons dwelled within, visiting upon their unwilling guests an eternity of torture and torment, had finally had enough and closed up shop for the day, sated on pain and blood.
And just when Jayne had convinced himself that he was safe, that there was nothing within, a hand fell across the threshold, grasping at the lip of the door, pulling with all its might, followed by an arm that dragged a man so badly mutilated that he had no business being alive. Dead eyes focused on Jayne, a wicked smile parting the man's teeth, allowing his tongue – gray and putrefied – to fall out to the floor.
The man finally managed to pull his entire body from the void and into the dim light, his labors made easier by the fact that his legs had both been hacked off at mid-thigh. Shattered fingernails scraped at the smooth, steel floor, and Jayne started kicking at them, trying to keep the man from getting any closer.
"You left us in there," the man's dead voice moaned accusingly. "You condemned us all."
"What are you talking about?" Jayne asked. A glimmer caught Jayne's eyes, a dark light lost somewhere in the back of the unending void. It slowly grew brighter, diverting Jayne's attention from the corpse that seemed to have mercifully succumbed to death. A form started to take shape within the void, slender, its arms outstretched. And Jayne experienced a greater fear than he ever had. The light continued to burn brighter, until he could finally make out details. Before him stood a young girl, bathed in blood, a sword in one hand and an axe in the other, knee-deep in the dismembered body parts of countless Reavers.
She started to speak, and Jayne screamed. A moment later he realized he was safe in his bunk, that it had all been a dream. The same dream. The same nightmare. He turned on the light and got up, grateful that anyone woken by his screaming was considerate enough to stay in bed, to pretend that he wasn't every bit as haunted as the others. He staggered to the galley, intent on making some coffee.
"This can't go on forever," he muttered to himself. "No one should have recurring nightmares of seventeen-year old, homicidal maniac girls with swords." No, she's eighteen now, he reminded himself, remembering their conversation from that morning.
He considered the proposition again. She was right, he knew – he needed the money. Reflecting on his dire financial straits, he found it hard to decide exactly where he'd gone wrong. After dropping out of high school, he first went to Boss Walken, a local loan shark who fancied himself a crime lord. Jayne needed cash for a few guns, some body armor, and a shiny new knife, and he didn't think twice when Boss Walken said he'd front him the fifteen hundred he needed. But it didn't take Jayne long to learn that he should have read the fine print.
He got out of Boss Walken's debt by borrowing five thousand from Don Cartesi. He was proud of himself for making far better terms this time around, and he attributed his success at haggling to the fact that he'd started to make a name for himself as hired muscle. Unfortunately, Jayne's fortunes changed when the captain of the ship he traveled on found himself at the wrong end of an Alliance bullet. So Jayne ended up going to Boss Cameron Hodge, who provided the eight thousand Jayne needed to pay back Don Cartesi. And this time, in his desperation, Jayne didn't bother to haggle for terms.
Jayne's bad luck continued, and after two years he needed fifteen thousand for Hodge. After signing on with Captain Jimmy Morgan, though, Jayne's luck finally took a turn for the better. He made some new friends and was able to get the money he needed from a small-time drug-dealer named Conley. The terms weren't great, but they were certainly better than what Hodge held over Jayne's head. Then, out of nowhere, an Alliance destroyer swooped in, arrested Morgan, seized his ship and cargo, and held Jayne for two months until they made port.
By that time, Jayne was down in the dumps, former associates whispering behind his back that the only way he could have gotten out of an Alliance brig was by ratting out some of his partners in crime. Conley's fortunes had taken a turn for the better, meaning that he had plenty of new muscle to send looking for repayment on old debts. Jayne dodged him for over a year, until he was finally cornered and found himself doing the unthinkable – using his own organs as collateral, he arranged a loan for the thirty-five thousand he owed Conley. And now Poncho Vallarta literally owned him.
Two years ago, Jayne had thought he'd escaped the debt by faking his own death. But somehow, Poncho found out the truth. After counting interest and penalties, Jayne had two choices – pay almost sixty thousand, or forfeit several vital organs that, even with his basic knowledge of biology, he was fairly certain he needed in order to keep on living. He had a definite preference between the two alternatives.
"I need a big score," he muttered to himself. "Something small but expensive, and stuff like that is always next to impossible to get. That kind of job usually takes specialized teams of thieves, and there ain't none of them on this ship." He took his first sip of the coffee, grimaced at the bitter taste, and proceeded to pour in a quarter cup of sugar to take the edge off.
"But River…" he considered, tossing the idea around in his head. He knew she could handle herself in a fight, and he imagined that her being a psychic couldn't help but be useful. "Well, if nothing else, maybe it'll stop the nightmares," he decided, swirling the coffee in his cup in a futile attempt to dissolve the layer of sugar at the bottom. "It's not like I really have much of a choice."
"Simon isn't around, is he?" Jayne asks from the entrance to River's quarters. He looks strangely unsure of himself, almost as if he's afraid of intruding into River's personal space. She finds it amusing, given how – when Mal isn't looking – Jayne spends a good part of his time lumbering around as if he owns the ship.
"No, he's with Kaylee," River assures him, a friendly, ingratiating smile forcing Jayne to wonder at the fact that this same small woman who butchered dozens of Reavers with little more than her own two hands.
"You know, you did good out there," Jayne tells her with an approving nod.
"Not that I expected you to be bad at thievin' or anything," Jayne says quickly. "All that Alliance brainwashing and secret training has to be good for somthin'. What I mean is, it was nice that you didn't flip out and start killing people with an axe."
River is unable to stifle a chuckle at that remark; she finds it feels good, so she lets the chuckle grow into an honest to goodness laugh, perhaps the first one she's had since there were only fourteen candles on her birthday cake. "It was fun," she admits. "Maybe we should do it again sometime."
"Yeah… about that," Jayne says. "I was wondering if you could give me a hand with something."
"Sure," River says happily. Her smile reminds Jayne of the look she had in the warehouse, and this time, rather than being concerned, he find he's strangely comforted by her light mood.
"I was wondering if you could watch my back when I meet with Poncho Vallarta," Jayne explains. "I'll have plenty of money now, but—"
"But you're afraid he might prefer your liver and spleen," River laughs. "And who could blame him?"
"I'm serious," Jayne complains.
"Me too," River replies. "Sure, count me in; it'll be fun."
"Fun…" Jayne repeats skeptically.
"So," River says, looking meaningfully at the burlap bag in Jayne's hand.
"Oh, right… here's your share," he says awkwardly, holding out the bag containing two skeins of seraphiber. "I'm gonna hide mine until we get to Persephone; I can unload my share there and we'll take care of my, umm… business. You'd best wait until the stop after that to try to move your half – people are like to get suspicious if lots of discount seraphiber shows up."
"Oh, I'm not going to sell it," River replies with a shrug.
"What?!" Jayne asks, far more loudly than he'd wanted to. He glances around, making sure no one's going to investigate his latest outburst, hoping that everyone else has just attributed it to Jayne being Jayne. "You're not going to sell it?" he finally asks. "Are you out of your gorram mind? Is this one of those crazy-person things where you did the job just for the thrill of doing it? Because if it is, that's just plain nuts. Only reason to do something like that is to get paid."
"It's for Kaylee," River says. Jayne can almost swear that he detects something unfamiliar in her tone, like she's hoping that her explanation seems worthwhile to him. It seems strange that a girl as capable as River would look for validation from a man like Jayne, as much of a bad-ass as he might be.
"For Kaylee?" he asks. "Girl, that there's worth tens of thousands of platinum."
"I know," River admits sheepishly. "But I'd rather give it to Kaylee."
"What the ruttin' hell for?" Jayne asks. He's seen River in all states of madness, but try as he might, he can't remember anything half as crazy as this.
"It's for her wedding dress," River explains. She looks at Jayne expectantly, and now he has no doubt that she's hoping to get his approval. "She likes to look pretty."
"Wow… I didn't know Kaylee's getting married," he stammers.
"Neither does she," River replies, now grinning ear to ear. "And if you let on before Simon asks, remember one thing."
"I can still kill you with my mind."